REFERENDUM: Adding value to our community and paying for infrastructure

 

BY PETER EWART

Special to the Daily News

The results of the municipal referendum in Prince George are in and show a good, solid majority of residents (almost 63 per cent) voted to fund a new Four Seasons swimming pool, and an overwhelming majority (over 82 per cent) voted to fund a new Firehall #1.

Both projects will add significant value to our community.  The new publicly-owned and operated swimming pool will add value by creating a healthier population.  As a result, there is less pressure on medical and other services, injured or ill employees get back to work quicker through rehab and therapy, the older population stays healthier longer, and, very importantly, children and youth are taught swimming and proper water safety, and have a positive social and recreational alternative.

The new firehall will add important value by saving lives and property and providing a safe city and regional environment.

Both infrastructure projects will add to the economy of downtown, as well as the overall city and region, and will serve as an attractant for businesses and enterprises to set up operations, as well as for workers, professionals and others to move to the city.

For its part, the City of Prince George did a good job in providing timely and extensive information about the projects, and within the parameters of a consultative process, obtained public input and allowed for media scrutiny.

That being said, this referendum process, once again, brings to the fore a central problem facing municipalities across the province.  Local levels of government are restricted by provincial and federal law to a narrow band of funding mechanisms to pay for new infrastructure such as pools and firehalls, e.g. mainly property taxes.  Both the federal and provincial governments have a much wider range of mechanisms to raise funds that are denied the municipal level of government.  Indeed, the relationship between municipalities and the upper levels of government resembles a colonial one with most funding power and granting mechanisms concentrated in Victoria and Ottawa.

For example, despite huge resource revenues being generated in or near communities throughout the province, these same communities have no mechanisms to access these revenues. Instead, it is mainly the provincial government that has control over resource royalties and stumpage.

Furthermore, the added value that is created from the workforce, public infrastructure and natural resources (e.g. forests, metals, minerals, oil & gas, hydroelectric) is often under the control of large multinational corporations.  These corporations extract huge added value, but often do not reinvest it in the communities and regions from which it is derived.  Instead, as is increasingly the case with Canfor and West Fraser, this added value is scooped up from BC communities and invested in mills in the southern US and elsewhere.

As communities across the province face major infrastructure funding issues, the above problems loom and require solutions.

Some communities and local levels of government are already raising their voices about these issues – which is positive.  But one thing is clear: we need to think even more about new mechanisms and new ways of doing things that give workers, residents, small and medium businesses, municipalities and regional districts more say and more control in this increasingly globalized world.

Peter Ewart is a writer and columnist based in Prince George, British Columbia.  He can be reached at: peter.ewart@shaw.ca

  • Wallace Klinck

    The new amenities are indeed improvements to the community but they will not be a “value” to the community until they are credited to it. They will remain a financial albatross resting upon the community to the extent that they are financed by bank loans and will be represented as outstanding financial debt. They will have been physically completed and fully paid for in terms of energy and materials but will endure as a financial burden upon the community in the form of tax-serviced public debt extending far into the future. This is the inevitable consequence of operating under a system of legalized counterfeiting whereby the issuers of financial credit against the community’s real credit are allowed, as mere accounting agencies, to claim ownership of the credits which they issue to monetize the community’s wealth–which real wealth they have not created in any way. The value of these new capital amenities should be written up in a “communal credit account” from which money should be drawn to finance the payment of Consumer Dividends to all citizens and payments to all retailers so that they can charge falling or Compensated Retail Prices. The public is being colossally conned and worked to death on an ever upward- inclining treadmill of work in a futile effort to meet debts which increasingly exceed the ability of earned incomes to liquidate. The astounding efficiency of modern technology should translate into increased direct purchasing-power and falling retail prices–and increasing leisure.

  • rigormortice

    No matter what way we cut it, this referendum was not a resounding success. If anything it laid bare the fact that voters in Prince George are about as apathetic as you can get. To have 7800 out of 52,000 eligible voters, vote on this issue is terrible.
    When we look at financing $50 Million over 20 years we are probably facing something in the area of $25/30 Million in interest fee’s, plus other associated costs. So in effect we are paying out something like $3000.00 per person per year to swim in this pool. The prices paid by the swimmers do not come close to paying for the operating costs, so we also have to pay these cost.

    So, while I am in favour of having facilities for our youth, and seniors, etc; I am not in favour of spending this kind of money without having some due diligence take place by the Mayor, Council, and Administration. We need to lower the cost to taxpayers for these facilities, which means that the City needs to get control of their spending, get funds from the Feds, and the Province, and last but not least stop finding projects to spend money on.

    Enhancing the downtown has become a huge black hole that is sucking up tax dollars at an alarming rate. Seriously, its time that we became more responsible with other peoples money,.

    We had a similar situation with the new police station, where we spent millions more than necessary because of the lack of will, and fiscal responsibility of the Mayor/Council/Administration at that time.

    All the so called benefits that this new pool will generate are nothing more than hyperbole. We have already reaped these benefits with our having two great swimming pools for the past many years. Tearing down and building a new pool will have very little effect on the overall benefits to Prince George.

    • C.beaver

      For the cost of demolition of the Four Seasons pool and the Days Inn the Four Seasons pool could be refurbished and the new pool would be a net increase in capacity.

      This is the same blunder as demolishing an ice hockey arena to build a new one in its place. This is the same blunder as demolishing KGV and Duchess Park to build a shiny new school building. This is the same blunder as demolishing existing senior’s housing to build new housing. Likewise with the new police building. You get a small addition to capacity and a huge increase in debt.

      The approach taken to sell this project to the public was to claim that the cost of demolition and the cost of purchasing the Days Inn are not part of the cost of the project. Also the loss to the economy of the Days Inn and the Four Seasons pool was not highlighted. A real economic impact statement would have killed this project in the crib. If anyone in the private sector employs this kind of accounting they would end up in jail.

      Once again we have a mayor and council who perceive that their job is to represent the bureaucracy’s wet dreams to the public and to take the election risk on behalf of the real government which is the entrenched bureaucracy.

  • lindtech

    The whole process was less than transparent. Why was the cost of buying the Day’s Inn and demolishing it not included in the referendum? The true cost is closer to $41 million and not $35 million. This is the same group that brought us the Fine Arts Centre–Sorry, the new police building.